By Kaitlyn Dubynskiy


Did you know that Pilgrims were one of the first English colonists to settle the eastern coast of North America? They would do just about anything to earn the freedom they deserved. Pilgrims (known as Separatists) refused to be part of the Church of England. They wanted the freedom to worship as they pleased, so they set off to find land where they were free to do so. When the Pilgrims finally reached land, they saw it was wild, unsettled country- far off from their destination. However, with the upcoming cold already upon them, they had no choice but to spend the winter there. Finally, when the harsh, brutal cold was over, the remaining colonists who were still alive got to work, building homes and planting crops. After a tremendous crop, the colonists celebrated their success with three days full of games and feasting. Pilgrims played a large part in the history of early America.

Voyage To America

Pilgrims came to America for freedom from the Church of England. In 1606, Separatists formed a small church in secret called "Scrooby". It meant "treason to King James I", who ruled the land and the church. So, in the year of 1608, Separatists moved to the Netherlands, where they thought they could find freedom from the king. But after a few years, some of the Separatists became unsatisfied. Though they found freedom from the king, it was very hard to make a living. Therefore, the Separatists went back to England in a small ship named the Speedwell. There, more people joined them and they headed out to sea for the New World on two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. They set off on a good start, but after a while, the Speedwell proved not to be seaworthy. It returned to England twice! Finally, in September of 1620, all one hundred two passengers left England aboard the Mayflower. The voyage was a harsh one. Two people died, and one baby boy was born. Finally, after about two months at sea, a crew member called out from the crows nest, "Land Ahoy!" It was on November ninth, 1620. Winter had already arrived. They saw the land was wild and unsettled. They wanted to turn south to Virginia because they were blown off coarse during the storms they had at sea, but winter was stopping their plans. Two days later, they dropped anchor in the Cape Cod Bay--present day Massachusetts. Small advance parties went ashore to explore the new land. But soon fighting broke out between the two groups of people that made up the Pilgrims, the separatists and the strangers because they didn't know where to settle. So they made a document called the Mayflower Compact. All the men signed the document. The Mayflower Compact stated laws that would equally protect everybody. It also said that a governor was needed for the colony. Later, after more exploring, the men found that the climate they were in was not satisfying. The soil was too sandy--no crops would grow in it--and the only water was the salt water from the sea. So they sailed westwards torwards land, and they saw land with a small bay of its own that emptied out into the Cape Cod Bay. There was plenty of fresh water, good forests for hunting, and empty meadows for planting crops. However, even though they had completed their voyage to America, they still had a long way to go until they had a well established colony.

The First Year

The first year on land for the pilgrims was a very bitter year. Though they had found a good place to settle inland of the Cape Cod Bay, most of the Pilgrims had fallen ill and were dying from starvation. The Pilgrims had arrived in winter, too late to plant any crops. Over forty people died from pnemonia, scurvy, and starvation. The people of this young colony called this sickness the "Great Sickness". Only about 50% of their population survived. Only four of the survivors were grown women! Some people say that the brave women who died starved themselves so their children had a chance to survive. The sickness continued until mid-February. It was a miracle if nobody died within a few days. Finally, in March, the men finished building their homes. People tried planting crops, though few succeeded. Most of the plants from England did not survive as the native plants did. The men continued to explore. On March 16, 1621, the Pilgrims were shocked to find a Native American calmly walk into the streets of their colony, named Plymouth. They had not seen a single Native ever since they came ashore. Though they had found mounds of corn, wigwams, heard their mysterious screams in the night, and saw the smoke from their fires rise out of the forest, not once did they see a Native--And now, to see one standing in their own colony! Even more to their surprise, he stopped and shouted, "Welcome, Englishmen!" He spoke English! The Pilgrims own language! All the people ran out of their houses to touch him, to feel his skin, to brush their fingers against the piece of deerskin hanging from his waist-the only item of clothing he was wearing. The Indian told them his name was Samoset. When the Pilgrims asked him where he learned to speak English, he said from some English fishermen who came to fish farther north--Around present day Maine. A few days later, Samoset returned with another Native, Tisquantum. He, too, could speak English, only much better than Samoset. Tisquantum said that he had actually spent a number of years living in England. As a young man, while he was walking along the beach of this bay- now called Plymouth Bay- he was kidnapped to be a slave in Spain with other captured Indians from nearby Wampanoag tribes. Somehow, he made his way to England and spent four years there, learning many English words. One day, he was offered the oppritunity to return to his homeland. A fur trader was leaving for the northern coast of America and wanted Tisquantum to accompany him and hopefully make peace with the nearby Indian tribes. Finally, he got to his homeland, but saw only the deserted fields and empty wigwams. No people. Tisquantum was told by the other Native tribes in the area that his village- the Patuxet- were wiped out by a deadly plague that killed many Natives. The plague was brought over by the people of Europe and England. When Tisquantums master went on to Virginia, Tisquantum decided to stay behind with his people. Tisquantum then told the Pilgrims that this very place used to be the village of Patuxet. That is why when they came there were already empty meadows for planting and building. Then the pilgrims saw a large group of Indian men standing on a hill that overlooked the colony. They wanted to sign a peace treaty with the Pilgrims-- one that would last fifty years. Throughout the summer, the Indians helped the Pilgrims plant Indian corn, wheat, barley, and peas. Soon they were growing lots of food. The Pilgrims thrived! And though only four grown women survived the first winter, the children were growing up. Little by little, the colony rose in numbers, thanks to their friend Tisquantum- called Squanto by his English neighbors.

The First Thanksgiving

After a long summer full of hard work, the Pilgrims had an abundant harvest. They harvested twenty acres of Indian corn and six acres of barley and peas. In the fall of 1621, the people of Plymouth decided to make a feast- three whole days full of dancing, playing, and eating. As most people know, this was the First Thanksgiving. Though we have no specific date, we do know that this event took place sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621. At the celebration there were about ninety of their Native friends-including Massasoit-and about fifty Pilgrims, to make one-hundred forty people to feed. The four Englishwomen who survived the first winter- Elizabeth Hopkins, Elinor Billington, Mary Brewster, and Susana Winslow- were able to prepare the food only with the help of the children. They hunted eels, lobster, shellfish, geese, and ducks. Women made cornbread, meat pies, and pudding. Soon they had such a hearty meal that they were sure could stop anybody's hunger. However, they did not know that when they invited Massasiot that he would invite about ninety of his men! When Massasiot saw that his friends were not prepared, he sent some of his men to hunt so they could provide meat. They soon returned with five deer. Most of the food they ate was native to the New World. These included nuts, grapes, plums, berries, cherries, watercress, beans, pumpkin, squash, crabapples, Jerusalem artichokes, wild onion, and purslane. The English foods they ate included roots, melons, onions, cabbage, lettuce, and beets. Since there was a good chance that the Pilgrims brought goats and chickens aboard the Mayflower, they may have had eggs and milk. They drank beer, water, and possibly whey. The Pilgrims spent their first Thanksgiving playing lots of fun games and feasting to celebrate their blessings and thanking God for their good fortune.


In conclusion, the Pilgrims were an important part of America's history. They created one of the first permanent colonies on the northeastern coast of North America. The voyage to America had been very hard for the Pilgrims. The land they ended up on was very far from their original predicted destination. During the first winter on land, about half of the Pilgrim population died. But with the help of the Native Americans, their colony thrived once more. To celebrate their success, the Pilgrims had a feast, called Thanksgiving, for three days. When the Pilgrims arrived in the New World in the year of 1620, they played a huge role in history- a role that will always be part of the beginning of the United States.


Netherlands- a small country located east of the modern-day United Kingdom and north of the English Channel

Patuxet- the Native American village that Tisquantum grew up in; part of the Wampanoag tribe

purslane- a fleshy-leaved trailing plant with tiny yellow flowers that is often thought of as a troublesome weed but can be used in salads

scurvy- a disease caused by lack of the vitamin C found in some fruits and vegetables

strangers- what the Separatists called the other groups of people aboard the Mayflower that did not come for religious reasons

watercress- a water plant with small, round leaves; often used in salads

whey- a milk serum separated from the curd during cheese-making

wigwam (also called wetus)- a type of Native American home common in the northeastern region of North America; bowl shaped



Cobblestone Pilgrims Rock The New World. Meg Chorlain. September 2009.

The Plymouth Colony Let Freedom Ring. Pamela Dell. 2004.

The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims. Cathy East Dubowski. 1990.


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